Sunday, 4 December 2011

Asylum seekers and winter fuel allowance

Fuel poverty in Britain is a growing problem, with more and more people facing a struggle to keep their homes heated. This particularly affects the elderly, with cuts to Winter Fuel Allowance being part of the government's austerity agenda. However, even as people die from this clear attack on the working class, the far-right are trying to spin it as a race issue.

The BNP tells readers of its website that "although tens of thousands of impoverished British pensioners will die from the cold in the coming months, so-called asylum seekers will get hundreds of pounds each in benefit payments for gas and electricity, amounting to more than double the pensioners’ winter fuel allowance." The implication being that, if only asylum seekers didn't get such generous handouts, there wouldn't be a need for the elderly to suffer fuel poverty. Except, naturally, that it's not quite that simple.

The government announced a cut of up to £100 in Winter Fuel Allowance back in March, with the Treasury's only response being to claim it was sticking to plans introduced by the previous government. Nonetheless, the reality of it is that there is less money for elderly people to pay fuel bills even though last year saw 25,700 "excess winter deaths," most of people over 75.

This is especially callous given that a quarter of households in Britain are now in fuel poverty. Pay for most people is either frozen or failing to keep up with the rate of inflation, whilst the cost of living overall is soaring - including extortionate fuel prices. This is despite plummeting costs of wholesale electricity and gas, and a generally mild winter, since energy companies have not reflected this with a drop in their prices. All of which adds up to winter fuel misery which will hit the elderly hardest.

So where do asylum seekers come into this? The obvious answer is that they don't - this matter boils down to capitalism and government austerity, with the worst off being made to suffer in the name of profit. It is one of the nastiest edges to the dominant economic order, but sadly nothing new or unusual by that system's logic. The obvious response being to challenge those responsible - from profiteering corporations to the government which is cutting winter fuel allowance. Yet, for the far-right the real matter isn't that pensioners are getting screwed over but that asylum seekers (in their estimation) aren't getting screwed over enough.

Aside from anything else, this is the classic "race-to-the-bottom" mentality. Rather than argue for everyone to be lifted up and their conditions improved, they argue for everyone to be dragged down to the level of those they see as worst off.

Moreover, it's not even true to say that asylum seekers are better off. The BNP claim that they get £172 per month in fuel payments, "in addition to the other benefits asylum seekers receive, such as ‘cash support’ and accommodation, water and food allowances." Except that asylum seekers are not allowed to work and in many cases have as little as £5 a day to live on. Thousands live destitute on the street and many more live in "hard-to-let" homes which nobody else will take.

The BNP and others on the far-right would have us believe that refugees live in the lap of luxury, but the facts demonstrate otherwise. They would have us believe that this falsehood is why elderly people are suffering, ignoring the reality of the capitalist system we all live in. If we want to effectively fight fuel poverty and other injustices, we need to reject the fascists and their divisive ideology.